Republicans would "literally drag [the U.S.] all the way back to Jim Crow laws," the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) charged over the weekend.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) accused Republicans of trying to resurrect Jim Crow laws in the form of stricter laws at the state level that could limit access to ballots by some voters.
"Now you have the Republicans, who want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws and literally — and very transparently — block access to the polls to voters who are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates," she told host Roland Martin on "Washington Watch" this weekend [emphasis hers]. "And it’s nothing short of that blatant."
A series of state legislatures, now under the control of Republicans after the wave election in 2010, have enacted reforms to ballot access laws, which could shape the 2012 vote at the margins. The laws are ostensibly nonpartisan, but Democrats and watchdog groups have warned that they would have the impact of depressing turnout for constituencies typically loyal to Democrats.
She backed off her use of the language in a statement on Monday afternoon.
"Jim Crow was the wrong analogy to use," she said. "But I don't regret calling attention to the efforts in a number of states with Republican dominated legislatures, including Florida, to restrict access to the ballot box for all kinds of voters, but particularly young voters, African Americans and Hispanic Americans."
Wasserman Schultz was speaking specifically about one example: a law sought by Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) requiring voters to produce a valid ID.
The DNC chairman likened a similar law in Georgia to a "poll tax," one of the laws used by states with Jim Crow laws to deny blacks the right to vote in the century since the Civil War. The Supreme Court has struck down many of those laws as unconstitutional because of their disparate impact, and the Civil Rights laws of the 1960s sought to end Jim Crow in practice.
"So, you’re literally just throwing a barrier in the way of someone who’s trying to exercise their right to vote," Wasserman Schultz said of the modern-day laws. "And the reason that it’s not necessary is because we already have very legitimate voter verification processes, signature checks that are already in place; and there is so little voter fraud, which is the professed reason the Republicans are advancing these laws. There’s so little voter fraud, and I mean you’re more likely to get hit by lightning than you are to see an instance of voter fraud in this country, but Republicans are imposing laws all over the country, acting like it’s not — voter fraud is rampant, and it’s ridiculous."
Updated at 3:00 p.m.